A couple of months ago, I finished rewatching some of my lesser favorite Heisei Rider shows -- Faiz, Blade, Hibiki. (I also squeezed in some of the movies, like The First, The Next, ZO and J...) It just made me nostalgic for the early '00s, when I was really into Kamen Rider, and loving the heck out of Agito and Ryuki, diving way deep into Black, thinking of all of the possibilities this franchise held.
It's clear that I'm a Sentai guy. I was a Sentai kid -- I was way more into the Sentai shows that were on when my family was in Japan than I was in the tiny bit of other toku we saw. (I loved Spielban, though; didn't quite like Metalder.) I was certainly aware of Kamen Rider Black -- there was at least one commercial of his in each of the three CM breaks during Maskman -- I had a couple of his toys, ate some of the delicious chocolate ball snacks of his. I don't remember seeing much of the show, and I only remember having, like, two episodes recorded, whereas me mum taped all of Bioman, Changeman, Flashman, Maskman and as much of Liveman as she could before we left. I had more Metalder episodes taped, and I didn't even like the dude. (He and his show are, like, soooooooooooo slow and boring when you're a kid coming off of the kick-ass, high-speed Spielban.)
So, when I'm getting back into toku in the late '90s, I of course focus on Sentai first. Kamen Rider hadn't had a new show since the one that was turned into Saban's abysmal piece of crap, and his newest movie -- Kamen Rider J -- was already a few years old, and never spoken fondly of. And yet Kamen Rider still had the crazy reputation it has now -- that it's THE toku franchise, and OMG, Sentai and anything else is like the buzzing of flies to it! People loved Kamen Rider Black, that was like the Ryuki of the fandom at the time. Tetsuo Kurata had more exaggerated appraisals than Chuck Norris. So, I finally decided to check out Rider, and bought the early episodes of Black. I liked it, but there was still a ton of Sentai and other shows I wanted to check out first, so I'd sample around. (Who remembers having to buy toku tapes? Then you remember that a lot of sellers charged absurd amounts of money for them, so it was hard to get to see a full series.) As I've said, my comfort zone was from the mid-80s on, so I stuck to those shows. I checked out RX -- hated it -- and then bought the three Rider movies from the '90s. Being a horror fan, I LOVED Shin Kamen Rider -- and couldn't believe how hated it was by Rider fans at the time -- I thought ZO was cool, but thought J bit the big one. I bought some of the first series, but a lot of it was heinous quality. (Who remembers when the sellers of toku tapes wouldn't track their VCR?) So, it sat mostly unwatched...
As previously posted, I got into the '70s shows and started seriously checking them out after being impressed by Hiroshi Miyauchi in Gaoranger VS Super Sentai. This was late 2001 -- I watched only the first episode of Kuuga and knew Agito came after, but knew nothing about the show itself. I spent most of 2000 and 2001 sort of out of tokusatsu, and Gaoranger VS Super Sentai resparked things for me. At that time, I was really getting into toku themes -- shout out to Ken Ho's MP3 place! -- and, shortly afterward, bootleg copies of Masked Rider Live 2000 on DVD started to hit, and I started to really get serious about checking out Kamen Rider. Shortly after THAT, I found the bootleg sets of Kamen Rider Black, which at the time I thought were legit. (It didn't take long to figure out something was up with them.) But, hey, it was a big chunk of the series, at an affordable price, AND good quality! It sucked that the credits were cut out, but I was really into the show, and hauled out my tapes of the original series, really getting into the dark horror style of those early Fujioka episodes, and the Kamen Rider set-up really started appealing to me. Here's a guy who has a bright future and is stripped of his humanity by a bunch of crazy renegade Nazis and/or occultists. He fights those similar to him, only he was managed to be saved in time. He's now basically a monster, but, damn it, he's not going to let this happen to anyone else, and he's going to hang on to the humanity he has left and persevere. A Kamen Rider is supposed to be tragic -- it's a gift and a curse.
And then I kept reading people -- people who weren't a part of the toku scene, people who didn't even like toku -- go on about Agito. How much the plot pulled them in, how well-written it was and how great the characters are. They couldn't wait to see what happened next in the episode. This got me very interested in checking Agito out. I knew there were three Riders in the series -- which having more than one Rider is something I had always wondered why the franchise didn't do, when even the Metal Heroes had started to have more than one hero -- but, in my head, I was expecting something a little like Black: that sort of style and, especially, formula. What I got was completely different, and I was intrigued by the show from the start. Little did I know just how deep Agito would go, and I was hooked, grabbing as many episodes as I could, buying merchandise. (As I said, when I want to buy a toku's merchandise, it usually means I really like that show.) Ryuki was just debuting and holy heck, did it look crazy -- like a show full of Shadow Moons! I was reallllllllllly into Ryuki for a majority of its run, and Episode Final was my event movie of '02. But Ryuki's rotten, cowardly, cop-out fizzle of an ending left me cold, cold to the point where I find it difficult to enjoy the parts of the show I did like.
I had high hopes for Faiz when it was coming on. The suit looked terrible, but it was the return of Agito's writer. How could they go wrong? Well, they did, and Faiz remains one of the more frustrating Rider experiences, a repetitive Degrassi High of mopey kids. The show had a lot of promise, a lot of the classic Rider ingredients, and while it started off intriguing enough, it ended with a "who cares?" whimper after spending 25+ episodes chasing its tail. (Sad to say I enjoyed more of it this last rewatch, and feel like I need to write a letter of apology to Kento Handa.) I was interested to see Blade, with its new-to-toku writer (fresh blood) and its being unafraid to seem more fanciful rather than J-Drama-ish, but I thought that show was super sloppy, just all over the map. I liked the Japanese-ness of Hibiki, and thought Shigeki Hosokawa was good in the lead role, but the show itself made the henshin hero part a second priority. Kabuto was laughable, unintentionally goofy, but thought it was a really cool show, which made it even worse. Riders trying to outdo each other in makeovers and make-up! What the hell is happening to Rider? Rider's dead, isn't it? This is where my disenchantment with the Rider franchise began.
And then the train arrived. Idiots all aboard, multi-colored Pokemon-pals who possessed the useless lead character into being a slapstick Rider. Now, the Heisei Riders had long taken themselves too seriously, so I don't think a comedic series was a bad thing, but, man...Den-O just went beyond the extreme. Nowhere near as funny as it thought it was, and VERY, very repetitive. Worst of all, the show just wouldn't die. It has 7,000 movies, and the obnoxious Taros -- the only entertaining one was Momotaros, and even he overstayed his welcome -- pop up whenever there needs to be a team-up. Den-O, it's well known, was a hit, and Toei has milked it dry, but worse enough, its stink is all over every Rider since -- the bad anime gimmicks have overtaken Rider to the point that the once obtrusive-seeming Rouse Card slashing in Blade seems unnoticeable. Den-O, which didn't have a Rider bone in its body, has caused Rider to lose its identity more and more -- Double is the only show since that I think has been watchable, but still a FAR cry from what I think a Kamen Rider is all about -- is Kamen Rider dead? It's hard to think of the show ever getting back to anything close to its roots. What's happened to Rider is basically what happened to Batman in the '60s. Hey, it might be fun at the moment, it might be what's making the most money, but it's not the character, and it's going to take quite a while to repair its image.
I think everything you need to know about Kamen Rider can be found easiest in the song "Kamen Rider no Uta," the first ending theme of the original series.
"He came along with the storm
Who is he? Who is he?
The man of storms who kicks apart evil, that's who, motherfucker!
Kamen Rider, the mask of justice
Rev your engines and run over some punks, Cyclone!
Smash 'em all down with a storm
Crush Shocker's nuts into oblivion!
Rider! Rider! Kamen Rider!"
The essence of that song is Kamen Rider, and good luck trying to get it to fit Den-O or OOO or Fourze. Ishinomori's spinning so fast in his grave that he can power the Typhoon.
I like Kamen Rider. I would just like it to be Kamen Rider again. Sentai being about multiple heroes and difference and those differences uniting, I think that's something that makes it more flexible, so it can do anything it thinks of. (Maybe Toei will remember that one day.) There are core ingredients to Kamen Rider, a very specific style and tone that it needs. Kamen Rider can't just be animefied and made into whatever Toei wants. It's gotten so bad that I'm looking back at stuff like Faiz and Blade and The First and being like "Well, I thought that stuff stunk, but at least it seemed like Kamen Rider!" That just scares me to thinking the franchise will hit such lows that it will be like "Well, Takeru Sato is up there with Fujioka! Fourze is as layered as Agito!" (And the sad thing about Wizard is that it could easily be made more Ridery, but they're choosing to instead focus on the lulz and animeness.)
My favorite Rider shows are Agito, Black and Kuuga, but I basically like all of the '70s Riders (favorites being Stronger and the first series). And even though Agito is my favorite Rider series, Black probably best represents -- in style, theme, design, atmosphere -- what I think a Kamen Rider should be, which is why his pic's at the top. I'm tired of you kids who keep trying to knock Black down in an effort to be "cool" and "different" -- he's a giant for a reason. How awesome is he? He managed to give Decade GOOD episodes. And THAT is magic, Wizard.